Leave health act alone, says lobby group

Health care advocates have called on the province to shelve plans to overhaul Alberta's existing health care legislation and introduce a new health act later this fall.

On Tuesday, the health care lobby group Friends of Medicare held a press conference in Edmonton where executive director David Eggen said that Alberta's current health framework is sound and not in need of an overhaul.

"There might be need for improvements but there is no need to jump the whole system," said Eggen.

Friends of Medicare said the new legislation could make it easier for the government to de-list health services from medicare coverage.

Last month, Alberta Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky received the final report prepared by Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Fred Horne, and an eight-member advisory committee. The report, which is intended to guide the future of Alberta's publicly funded health system, was the result of a four-month long public consultation earlier this year.

The report was divided into two parts, the first of which, Putting People First - Recommendations For An Alberta Health Act, provided 15 recommendations in areas such as guiding principles, a health charter and future public engagement. The second part of the report, Putting People First - A Summary of Views, summarized the input provided by Albertans during public consultations.

Some of the recommendations in the report include establishing principles in the Alberta Health Act that clearly put people first; mandating a health charter that acknowledges that health and health care are a partnership between individuals, families, communities, health providers and the government; establishing a health advocate, and making a commitment in the health charter that all Albertans have access to primary care through primary care teams.

According to the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), a legal opinion they commissioned from Gwen Gray of Chivers Carpenter LLP, found that current laws do a good job of protecting the publicly funded, publicly delivered health care systems.

"Consolidation of existing legislation under a new Alberta Health Act is far from mere administrative housekeeping. It has the potential to be something much closer to radical reform," said Gil McGowan, AFL president, on Tuesday.

According to a statement issued by Friends of Medicare, changes proposed by the Minister's Advisory Committee on Health would scrap all existing health care laws - including protection against privatization - and replace them with "enabling legislation."

McGowan said this would only provide broad outlines and directions of intent without real details. Under this format, he said, the minister can make new health care laws without first having a debate in the legislature.

Alberta's current health care legislation includes 30 separate laws and more than 100 regulations. Most of the legislation dates back to the 1960s.

"The health care system in those days was basically access to doctors and services were provided in hospital and sure enough, today our legislation still lets us do things very easily when it comes to the doctor providing the service or when we want to offer the service in a hospital," said Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Fred Horne, earlier this year.

"But when we want to do things in the community, or when we want to have more providers involved in delivering the care, our legislation has no place for that. There is no place in our legislation for nurse practitioners."

The minister will review the consultation report and is expected to present a formal response later this month.

St. Albert Gazette, Wed Oct 13 2010
By Lauren Den Hartog

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